Listening to your record collection can transport you back in time and can be a wonderful nostalgia trip. There are also plenty of people who believe that the sound quality of vinyl is far superior to anything that you can download these days.
So, what do you do when you go to your record collection to relax and unwind with some music, only to find what looks like mold growth on the sleeve and the record itself? Why did this happen in the first place, are the records ruined and how can you make sure this never happens again?
In this article, we answer all these questions and more, so, for all you need to know about mold on vinyl records, keep reading.
Why causes mold on vinyl records?
Mold and mildew will grow wherever their needs are met, and despite fungi being complex organisms, their needs are very similar to our own.
All it needs to survive is a source of moisture, nutrients and a very small amount of oxygen, a temperature between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit will also speed up the rate at which it can grow, but it can certainly replicate at higher and lower temperatures than this.
Let’s have a look into how the environment you store your records in could be providing these elements.
Whilst fungi need moisture, they don’t need very much, and a room with over 55% humidity will provide all the liquid it needs.
High moisture air can condense and pool on cooler surfaces within a room, such as walls or ceilings, but in the case of records, the sleeve could absorb some of this moisture, trapping it near the record. As this moisture level increases, small droplets can form on the surface of the vinyl, giving mold and mildew a source of moisture.
When fresh air comes into a room via a window or door, it increases the internal pressure which forces out old stale, and moisture-laden air, replacing it with fresh dry air. As many records are kept in rooms with little airflow such as basements and attics, there is very little exchange of air, allowing the moisture levels to easily reach the threshold for mold growth.
You may well be wondering what fungi could possibly be consuming whilst growing on your vinyl records, and the good news is that it’s almost certainly not the vinyl itself.
It’s far more likely that it is feeding off dust and organic materials that were airborne and have settled on the record or within the sleeve it is kept in.
Dust is made up of dead and dried-out organic materials such as plant matter and shed human and animal skin cells. These provide all the minerals and nutrients it needs.
Temperature is certainly not a prerequisite for fungal growth, as without moisture and nutrients, it could not survive. However, it does breed at its fastest rates between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and as many homes in the United States set their thermostats between 70-75 Fahrenheit, fungi are given their ideal breeding temperature for many months of the year.
It can still breed above and below this temperature range, albeit a little slower. Some strains have even become immune to higher temperatures, allowing them to breed successfully even at nearly 100° Fahrenheit.
What types grow?
There are four main strains of mold that grow within properties more commonly than others, these include:
- Stachybotrys Chartarum (black mold)
Without proper testing, it can be very difficult to tell each strain apart, but some of them do grow in specific colors and textures that may help with their identification.
Aspergillus – Grows in dark shades, usually blacks and browns with a downy to powdery texture.
Cladosporium – Grows in dark brown and black-brown shades, sometimes a dark grey-green appearance may occur and has a powdery texture.
Penicillium – Can grow in many shades, usually lighter in color consisting of gray-green, blue-green, olive-gray, yellow, or even pink coloration, and has a clever-like texture.
Stachybotrys Chartarum – As this is true “black mold”, this strain grows in very dark colors, including black, black-brown, or black-green, and has a shiny texture that can appear slimy when wet.
Is the mold growth on vinyl records dangerous?
Yes, all strains of mold have the potential to be hazardous if the person exposed to it has allergies or a suppressed immune system.
Even non-toxic strains that do not create mycotoxins can produce symptoms in those sensitive to them. Some of the most common symptoms of mold allergies include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest tightness
- Skin irritation
- Watery eyes
It is true that toxic molds such as true black mold are more dangerous than others if the spores are ingested, as this can cause severe symptoms, however, inhalation of its spores has never been conclusively linked to symptoms of what has been dubbed (toxic mold syndrome).
As it is not always obvious how you will react to a strain of fungi, it is always best to treat them with caution if you plan on removing the mold yourself. More on how to stay safe during mold remediation later in the article.
What about black mold on vinyl records?
Due to media coverage, true black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum), is more widely feared than other strains.
As explained above, this strain is not usually any more dangerous than non-toxic strains when inhaled, but ingestion of spores can be far more serious.
This fungus is just as likely to be found growing on a vinyl record as other strains, as it has the same requirements and thrives within the same kind of environments.
Whether the strain is considered toxic or not is unimportant, as all fungi should be removed safely as soon as it is discovered, and the root cause of the infestation should be ascertained and corrected.
Signs of mold on vinyl records
Depending on the extent of the growth and how long it has been growing, there may be either very obvious signs of growth on a vinyl record, or it may be much harder to find.
If the growth is extensive, patches of irregularly shaped growth or large clusters of white, brown, or black dots may appear on the surface of the record, the label, or the sleeve it sits in.
Many strains begin with white coloration before changing color due to multiple environmental factors, so young growth can often be easier to spot on the black of a record.
For smaller amounts, or for newly formed growth, your sense of smell may be the first signal. Mold and mildew both have their own distinctive odors, with mold smelly musty, and mildew smelling like clothing that has not dried quickly enough.
Can mold growth damage vinyl records?
Mold growth certainly can damage vinyl records, and this is due to the enzymes they produce to break down the dust and other organic matter they feed off.
Mold strains release hydrolytic enzymes which have a pH of around 5, meaning that over time, they can wear away and damage the surface on the vinyl the record is printed on.
If caught very early on, the likelihood of fungi damaging the records is lessened, but if it has been allowed to grow for a sustained period, the damage may be extensive.
How to remove mold from vinyl records
As long as you spot growth in its early stages, you should be able to remove it without it causing too much damage, however, one thing to bear in mind is that if the record has been left in a high-humidity environment and has been subjected to varying temperatures, the record may have warped or become damaged.
If you want to remove the mold yourself, it is important to wear the correct safety equipment before you begin, these include a breathing mask, goggles, and rubber gloves. This will reduce the likelihood of coming into direct contact with mold or its spores.
In order to effectively remove mold from vinyl records, use the following steps.
Step 1. Using a clean cloth, gently remove as much of the visible mold as possible.
Step 2. Take another clean lint-free cloth and dip it in some isopropyl alcohol, or, distilled white vinegar that has been diluted in a 50/50 ratio with deionized water.
Step 3. With the moistened cloth, use circular motions around the record to remove any mold and grime. The acidity in the vinegar will kill mold and its spores, and the alcohol will denature their proteins, making them both good options.
Step 4. Repeat the above as many times as required to remove all traces of mold. Then leave to air dry. One note of caution, do not leave the record in the sun to speed up the drying process, as direct sunlight can warp the material.
How to remove mold from a record jacket
It’s highly likely that if mold was found growing on a record that was kept in its sleeve, it will be growing in there also. Use the following steps to clean the record sleeve of mold.
Step 1. Using a toothbrush, gently brush away any larger deposits of growth. If there is growth inside the sleeve, try to remove as much as possible by turning the sleeve upside down and gently tapping the bottom.
Step 2. For laminated sleeves, use a baby wipe that has been wrung out to dry it slightly, then use gentle, circular motions to remove any growth. For paper covers, use a microfibre cloth and gently wipe away any deposits.
Step 3. To be certain you have removed all mold and spores, you can use a vacuum cleaner with a thin attachment to gently vacuum the surface. Hold the attachment half an inch above the sleeve cover to ensure you do not scratch it whilst cleaning.
How to clean mold off the label
The label on your records are just as likely to suffer from fungal growth as the surface, this can spoil the appearance of the record, lower its value, and of course, has the potential to spread to the rest of the disc.
In order to remove mold from the sticker or label or a vinyl record, use the following steps.
For paper labels, it is best not to use any form of liquid, as they can seep into the material causing irreparable damage. Instead, use a soft-bristled brush such as a toothbrush and gently wipe away the majority of the growth.
Once the visible mold has been removed, use a microfibre cloth to gently wipe the surface, removing any spores and residue.
Labels on vinyl discs that have been laminated are easier to clean than paper, as any liquid will not be absorbed as easily. This allows the use of baby or anti-bacterial wipes to be used on their surfaces.
As you still want to reduce as much potential for warping or damage as possible, you should wring out as much liquid as you can from the wipe before using it to gently wipe away any fungal growth. There may be some liquid left over, so allow the record to air-dry out of direct sunlight before placing it back in its sleeve.
How to prevent mold growing on vinyl records
Knowing how to remove mold from vinyl records is one thing, but it’s certainly preferable to prevent its occurrence in the first place.
In order to prevent mold growth on vinyl records, use the following tips.
Keeping the moisture in the environment you store your records in below 55% humidity is an excellent first step in reducing the likelihood of fungal growth.
Between 45-50% humidity is the ideal climate to store your records in, and this is too a moisture level for large amounts of moisture to collect and begin pooling.
To keep track of moisture levels within a room, you can purchase a hygrometer. These digital alarm clock-sized devices monitor the overall moisture levels in a room and clearly display the percentage. As soon as it reaches greater than 55%, you know it’s time to start opening doors and windows to introduce airflow.
Leading on from our previous point, storing records in basements or attics is not always the best idea as these rooms tend to have fewer windows. This means that airflow is reduced and stale, moisture-laden air can collect and begin to condense on cooler surfaces.
Storing your records in a room where you can open windows, and doors or have passive ventilation points will allow fresh air into the room, which in turn forces the stale air out, lowering the overall moisture and humidity levels.
Dust is the number one food source for mold and mildew, without it, they cannot survive so removing as much dust and debris is good practice when trying to keep them mold-free.
Taking the records out of their sleeves once every few weeks or at least once per month will help to keep the dust levels on them down, as will ensuring the room they are being kept in is regularly dusted and vacuumed.
They do not need to be cleaned after each use, but dusting them at least several times each year is certainly recommended.
The ideal temperature range to store vinyl records is between 65-75 degrees. You may remember that earlier in the article I stated that mold grows at its fastest rate between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, so this temperature puts it right in mold’s breeding preference zone.
This is why it is so important to keep the humidity below 55% and the room and records clean, as without these, fungi will not be able to grow, even when stored at this temperature.
It is also best practice not to store your records in areas of a property that are prone to temperature fluctuations, such as basements and attics, as this can warp the discs.
How and where you store your vinyl records is not only important in reducing their chances of developing mold growth but also heavily affects their lifespan and playability.
Specific record crates or boxes are perfect for storing your discs. These boxes come with ventilation points and will prevent dust and debris from accumulating.
They can also be placed on shelves, as this provides plenty of ventilation, but be aware that natural sunlight can fade cover and label art and they will need regular dusting and cleaning.
Mold on vinyl records is fairly uncommon, but it certainly does happen and can have a devastating effect if not caught in time. If caught quickly, it can be removed with rubbing alcohol or distilled vinegar, and paper sleeves can be cleaned with a toothbrush and microfibre cloth, whereas laminated jackets can be cleaned with baby or antibacterial wipes. Over time mold can damage vinyl records, so it is important to keep the moisture level within the room they are stored in below 55% humidity and clean them regularly.